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Could this pop the balloon at '60 Minutes'?

NEWS ANALYSIS

Already on the rise, ratings expanded in an interview with singer Michael Jackson. But ethical questions are poised like pins.

January 07, 2004|Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writer

For the most part, the program is alone among its rivals in eschewing the big celebrity interviews that others chase after. But in addition to a number of serious reports on the Iraqi war aftermath, the lineup this season has been tweaked to include some lighter fare, such as an interview with Mary J. Blige and the Lawrence Taylor interview, which Hewitt calls his favorite recent segment. Taylor, who admitted to faking urine tests for drugs and sending call girls to his opponents the night before a game, talked about "all the things you kind of imagined may be going on, but never believed anyone would admit to it," Hewitt said.

The interview was also a perfect fit with the Sunday afternoon pro football viewers who watch CBS in the fall, and was one factor in convincing more of them to stick around for the news. The show's median age this season has also dropped, to 58.6, from 59.6 this time last year, which helps sell more ads.

The show's gains come despite some cutbacks among its legendary but aging staff. Mike Wallace, who conducted the Taylor interview, is expected to do only eight stories this season, down from a standard 20. Bradley, who had bypass surgery last spring, also took his time getting going this season.

The "60 Minutes" staff will get notably younger after Hewitt steps down and is replaced by Jeff Fager, who currently runs "60 Minutes II."

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